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Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What it Says about us)

by: Tom Vanderbilt

If you are like me you have been stuck in traffic wondering why. Why is the other lane moving faster? Why is traffic stopped at one location and moving quickly passed it when there is no accident? Why are all these people on the road when it is not even rush-hour? Tom Vanderbilt took all the ‘why’s’ and wrote a book.

I’m an engineer by trade and this is not an engineering book. It is a book about traffic, traffic flows, traffic interactions, from the social, political, economical, cultural, and psychological perspectives. Vanderbilt travels the world to bring us these various perspectives and gets the reader to question their own driving ability.

From North America to India to Europe and back to North America again he discusses how we are distracted. Billboards, couches on the road, cows in the median, but the biggest distraction of all, street signs. How many street signs do you see in a 3 meter span and could you remember them all?

And would you ever thought that all those things we add to roads to make them safer actually make them more dangerous? The bike lanes. The extra-wide sidewalks. Large speed bumps. Large slow signs. Street bumpers that force you slow down as a car approaches. All of these supposed traffic calming devices make our streets more dangerous. Why? Instead of having to interact with the people on the street drivers only have to think about the road. They forget to look for children on bikes, pedestrians getting off the bus, drivers are too busy trying to deal with all the traffic calming.

City planning does no better at solving this. Like, I have mentioned in some of my posts, there is a disconnection between the planning departments. Those responsible for pedestrians and sidewalks do not talk to those planning the roads. The ones permitting new development forget to talk to transit, who in turn also do not talk to the pedestrian and cycling people. In the end there needs to be more team work to solve the congestion problem.

Traffic certainly doesn’t try to solve the congestion problems but it is a start. It is a new way to look at traffic. If we look to the successes of other cities, perhaps there can be a solution to the congestion problem.


Pingback from sasha on the street » Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic
Time October 2, 2008 at 3:23 pm

[…] Read my book review here. […]

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Time July 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm

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